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To Revise and Reissue or Not Reissue: That is the Question

Because I’ve reached the point where I am so far along in a series that I need to go back and fill in some gaps in the series guide/story bible, whatever we call that thing, I’m re-reading the first books in the series. Gulp. One thing in particular leaped out, and that is how much a major minor character has changed. Not the description, but his role in the story, and how I portrayed him.

Should I go back and “update” the early books so they blend better with the later ones? For that matter, should I go back to my very first books (Cat Among Dragons 1-4) and re-do them, polish and improve the writing?

Um, well, er, that is, ah . . . I don’t know, but probably not. Maybe. Ish.

Typo clearing and major error repairs are always something to be cleared up, although it’s probably good to wait a little, then do a batch fix for e-books. This is also another argument for an e-book release first. All the things you caught, or that crept in as you fixed other typos, can get flagged before you go to the print version.

In my case, I know that the covers should be redone for the Cat books, and possibly the Colplatschki books as well, just because they are *coughcough* old and genre cover conventions have changed at least four times. Plus the cover of the second Cat book screams “fantasy” when it is mil-sci-fi. I should also go back and change the fonts on the earlier Familiars books, now that I’ve got a series look established.

Cover art is one thing. What about re-doing older books, smoothing them out, improving them, clearing continuity errors [unless you are classic Doctor Who, where continuity is a challenge to be overcome], and tweaking characters so they fit better into later world building?

In the case of the Familiars, I don’t think I’ll go back to Strangely Familiar and tweak how Arthur Saldovado is shown. At that point in the series, the other characters don’t realize that he is more than he appears, and he’s gotten a bit lazy. Thus the opening of the book, and the problem to be solved. To change things there means changing things in books three, four, seven, eight . . . No thank you.

What about re-working the Cat books? Hubris has problems. Major structural problems, because I did not know that head-hopping that way doesn’t work. It doesn’t work, trust me on this. Adding a new point-of-view character half-way through the book and dropping a different one doesn’t work, either, unless you are a lot smoother writer with a lot fatter book. I tried to be a bit experimental, and the experiment flopped. However, some readers like the book. And I don’t think I am good enough to go back, re-write it, and keep the guts of the story intact. (As an aside, the tsunami scene might be the hardest-on-me scene I’ve written to date, and I’ve written some doozies.)

Notice: In none of these cases am I talking about “updating” or “modernizing” or “Improving for modern sensibilities” as some people are doing with classics. These are technical fixes, or typo catches, and the like, not re-writing to change the story to suit what later editors think is appropriate. I’m not going to add, oh, an Azdhag-of-furryness, or a monologue about how patterned Azdhagi are people too and . . . For one, the reader can figure that out, and will. For two, other than the [spoiler!] color patterns that show major genetic problems, Azdhagi don’t care about color patterns. Neither do true-dragons. It doesn’t make sense. Nor would, oh, having Rada Ni Drako scold the Azdhagi for being anti-mammal and complain about discrimination. She knows that going in, and she’ll deal with it. Who knows what will be right-and-proper in another eight years? “Modernized” editions probably won’t age as well as the modernizers believe. Or they’ll get immortalized like Dr. Bowdler.

Typo catches and corrections? Absolutely. Indie and small-press writers are held to higher standards, and we need to produce a cleaner product. Continuity improvements and ret-conning? Maybe, or hand-wavium in a later book (as I just did in the WIP). Cover art updates? Yes. Beyond that? Hmmmmm . . . it really depends on you, the book or story, and the reasons.

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And if you don’t have anything else to do, Intensely Familiar, lucky thirteen in the Familiar Tales series, is now available.

20 Comments
  1. wolfwalker #

    To be sure, I noticed the shift in Arthur’s characterization, especially between Strangely Familiar and Eerily Familiar. I thought about it for a bit, and decided it could be explained by assuming everything is being told from Lelia Chan’s point of view, and it’s her perception of her boss that has changed over time. For that matter, his perception of her has probably also changed over time, and that would change his behavior around her too.

    June 21, 2020
    • That’s exactly what I was thinking. Lelia doesn’t know what Arthur is in the first book. He’s just the boss that gave her a break; he’s a bit eccentric, but fair. As for typos, etc. I’m already looking at some of those…

      And, hooray for Intensely Familiar! Off to KU right now!

      June 21, 2020
    • Harry #

      There’s a song lyric. though the idea appears in many places & times, that goes “You’re not the same man that you were just a moment ago”.

      It’s not just our perception of ourselves that changes over time (& “over time” doesn’t have to be very long at all).

      June 21, 2020
    • I agree as well. He’s more of a boss-only character at first, then later develops into a friendlier partner and father figure. I saw it as Leila having to work through her personal issues and perceptions before she could see Arthur as a complex human. We’re seeing their relationship develop, including her interpretation of his perceptions.

      Also, yay! I needed a good binge read this weekend.

      June 21, 2020
    • Aye, this. We see not just an evolving world, but an evolving perception of the world.

      OT: Does Lelia’s world have in it Lords of Acid? I can see potential problems with Out Comes the Evil.. not just the evil coming out, but that’s a LOT of heroin, isn’t it?

      June 22, 2020
  2. BobtheRegisterredFool #

    Keeping any length of backlist ‘updated’ for current political fashions sounds like an unending hell that would destroy the ability to get anything new written.

    This isn’t code, where you can in principle automate compiling, and testing, etc.

    June 21, 2020
    • Mary #

      Sometimes it’s even wiser to drop a series. For instance, the Earthsea trilogy stopped at three books.

      June 21, 2020
  3. I’ve not read the books, but my initial feeling was Hell no! Leave the stories as they are. Correct typos and update covers for sure. Heinlein’s rules FTW.

    June 21, 2020
  4. I’ve read and re-read the Familiar books, and I never noticed anything inconsistent about Arthur. As he went from a background character to a major player we learn more about him, and find initial impressions not being completely correct, just like in real life. To go back and start changing characters after the fact seems like it’s just asking for trouble. You must really enjoy editing to want to continue it after publication. πŸ™‚
    Now typos, fonts, cover art, etc. makes sense, although I’m beginning to think the only way to fix typos is to have a huge one right up front to satisfy the typo gods…

    June 21, 2020
  5. Stanley Miller #

    Can you get any feedback from Amazon on folks that look at Content and Devices, notice an update available and download it?

    I see updates there but if I have read the book I just ignore them, only taking ones for stuff still in the queue.

    Fixing typos and such is good, makes new readers happy and I’d make an effort to do that when a significant number of changes accumulate. The rest, maybe if it makes sense from additional sales.

    If you are in there tweaking things I’d sure update the promotional end stuff to include all current works.

    One thing I’d appreciate authors doing is updating their Amazon pages so that the series graphic/link appears on the book’s Amazon listing page. Also so it appears as a top-note when finishing a book and on the Read Next page that you go to when you scroll past 100%. I’d update the last book in a series to support that as soon as the next book is pushed to Amazon.

    June 21, 2020
  6. elainethomp #

    I recently reread the whole Familiars series, and wondered what minor character you were talking about with this post. So I don’t think there’s a problem to fix. πŸ™‚ Arthur’s character shifts are covered by Lelia’s knowledge of lots of things changing and what he’s willing to show her.

    June 21, 2020
  7. Just a couple of weeks ago I went back and rewrote the prologue and first chapter of my first book. I also did a heavy edit of the second chapter. I don’t get a lot of negative comments about that book, but the one which did crop up multiple times was that the first chapter took too long to get going. I tightened it up and got rid of a flashback (what was I thinking?) which had bogged it down. It ended up four pages shorter and I think it reads much better. I hope potential readers agree and give it a try.

    That being said, I couldn’t see rewriting the entire book. The second book needs me to go through and fix some typos, but overall I think it holds up. I’m happy with the third one and I HOPE the fourth one I’m working on will be free of lameness. P

    So, yes, I understand the desire and sometimes need to go back and give earlier works a good polishing. I think it can be beneficial as long as you don’t get so obsessed with the process that nothing new ever gets written.

    June 21, 2020
  8. Luke #

    Let me state my position thusly:
    Han shot first.
    .
    How depressing would it be to start reading a new series, and know within the first few chapters how all the characters and plot were going to evolve?
    Hard pass.
    And what when the things that bother you the most, are the same things your fans love the best?
    The Star Wars remasters I referenced above are a great example, but there are many others.
    “Word of God” now states that Dumbledore was homosexual. I can’t help but think that introducing that little detail in the stories would have greatly influenced how his particular mentorship of the young, vulnerable, orphan protagonist would be perceived. Outside of uncomfortable statistical realities, Chekov’s Gun would have been actively invoked. (And, um… Squick.)
    .
    Alternately, I appeal to verisimilitude.
    It’s subtle, but I find it breaks my willing suspension of disbelief over time if there are no loose threads, no false starts, no red herrings.
    I’ve been around the nuclear reaction enough times to know that “working as intended” means “lying my heinie off”.

    June 21, 2020
    • BobtheRegisterredFool #

      No, the bit with Dumbledore makes sense. Riddle, Hagrid, Lupin, Potter. Younger males he intervened for. He didn’t do anything for Hermione, that was the cat lady. The preference wasn’t known to anyone else, or no one who did know was willing and able to intervene.

      Albus and the other surviving brother were a statement about causes of unusual sexual preferences. Something in their upbringing or genetics.

      Voldemort was Riddle’s choice, but the whole thing was clearly also partly Dumbledore’s fault.

      One could understand the whole series as Rowling warning us against the cost of permitting homosexuals to be involved in education. πŸ™‚

      More seriously, gay Dumbledore makes sense as a darker take on the setting and character, minority Hermione was clearly Rowling trying to score woke points after the fact, and the ‘transphobia’ shows that there are lines she will not cross to score woke points.

      June 21, 2020
    • BobtheRegisterredFool #

      Gotta concede: Even if it works on a story level, it is kind of a scummy choice to leave the subtext in a kid’s book.

      June 21, 2020
      • wolfwalker #

        There are a LOT of “kid’s books” that contain subtext that only adults will get. Just like there are a lot of TV shows and movies ostensibly made for kids that contain adult-level subtexts and jokes. TVTropes even has an entire trope entry about it: Parental Bonus.

        June 21, 2020
        • Aye. When Very Young I enjoyed Rocky and Bullwinkle. When much older, I was able to re-watch at least some of the cartoons and appreciated them on a whole new level. Did I miss stuff the first time around? Yes. Did it *feel* like I missed stuff then? With one exception, no.

          The exception? They really pointed out the pun of the ‘Ruby Yacht of Omar Khayyam’ and I was not yet aware of the Rubaiyat. And the INSTANT I did become aware of that, *PING* “Oh…”

          June 22, 2020
  9. When I redo covers, I also check the manuscript. Typos etc, but I discovered that I used to be even worse about clunky dialog tags, and have changed some of them.

    I’ve also discovered, on rereading my early series books that I’ve changed some technical details of the entirely imaginary genetically engineered “magic” and changed it to match the later bits. Not that the discontinuity mattered . . . until it becomes important in the one I’m writing now.

    If that had been an important point, instead of a tossed off bit of technical gab, in the earlier book, I wouldn’t change it.

    June 22, 2020
  10. RCPete #

    Arthur’s evolution from Boss to mentor/quasi-father sounds reasonable to me, given the time elapsed within the series.

    Speaking of series bible, I’d love to see a list of characters with name, familiar (if any) and appropriate workname(s). As the series goes on, I’ll have a bit of trouble placing a character by workname–sort of figured out Gears, but was at a loss for Stick until the end. (Still can’t place Conqueror, but it’ll come.) Does Kit really keep Mungojerry as a workname? Oof! πŸ™‚

    OTOH, I’m thinking of doing a spreadsheet myself with this; kind of a doodle project when enjoying a re-read.

    Silly question: do the ferrets have unique worknames?

    June 22, 2020
  11. mrsizer #

    I think it is FAR more important to have a series linked together properly and minimize stale “previews” at the end. I am sick to death of 40 page “sneak peaks” at a book that has been published for ten years and being forced to page through them to get to the “buy next” button – especially if that button is missing.

    Cleaning up typos is fine, if you have a list. If you try to find them yourself, you probably have very little more chance of success than the first time.

    Updating covers to give the series a consistent look is something I’ve noticed and appreciate on the Amazon website, but I have not knowingly updated a book to get a new cover. I don’t even see them on my Kindle, so why bother?

    All that said, there are many different audiences. I may read something once from KU and forget all about it. That makes an update useless to me and a waste of time for you. However, someone else may be seeing the updated version as the first version. I am a big re-reader (after FIVE times through, I can finally look at the April series technically without getting sucked into it, much), but I very rarely look for, let alone apply, updates.

    June 23, 2020

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